A diagnosis of an allergy and determination of exactly what the animal is allergic to can be made in two ways: Allergy testing (intradermal (skin) or blood testing). Eliminating things individually from the animal’s environment until the culprit is isolated (the method most often used when food allergies are suspected)
Sometimes it is not necessary to determine the exact allergen causing the problem. For example, a poodle may start chewing his feet, scratching his sides, and rubbing his face on furniture every year for three weeks during the same month. These are often the signs of a seasonal allergy to something such as ragweed or tree pollen. In this case, your vet may choose either tablets and/or a single injection that will suppress the allergy for the 3-4 weeks necessary when that allergen is in the environment. After a short treatment period, the dog is back to normal until the following year when he or she will have the same problem.
Although allergies can’t be cured, they can be controlled by avoiding the allergens, treating the symptoms or desensitizing the dog. Fleas, food and some things that cause contact allergies may be avoidable, but with atopic allergies, avoidance is virtually impossible. Avoidance is an important part of managing Atopy.
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate all of the offending irritants, many can be reduced with minimal effort. For avoidance therapy to have any benefit, the offending irritants must be identified through intradermal skin testing. Avoidance is rarely a complete treatment in itself, but is used with a combination with other treatments.
Suggestions to avoid allergens such as dust mites, molds and pollens:
- Keep pets out of room several hours when vacuuming
- Use a plastic cover over dog’s bed
- Wash bedding in very hot water
- Avoid letting your poodle sleep on stuffed furniture
- Avoid stuffed toys
- Keep pets in uncarpeted rooms
- Run air conditioner during hot weather
- Keep pets out of basements
- Keep pets indoors when the lawn is mowed
- Avoid dusty pet foods
- Use humidifiers, make sure you clean and disinfect humidifiers
- Avoid large numbers of houseplants
- Keep dogs out of fields
- Keep grass cut short
- Rinse dog off after periods in high grass and weeds
- Keep pets indoors during periods of high pollen season
Topical Therapy: shampoos, rinses and topical anti-itch solutions.
Topical solutions containing hydrocortisone offers immediate, but short-term relief. Bathing atopic poodles weekly or twice a week with a hydrocortisone, hypoallergenic or oatmeal shampoo may help. Topical solutions containing hydrocortisone offer some relief in treating localized itching. Creams or salves are often used on the feet and between the toes and sprays are used on the abdomen or other areas with less hair. These products are very poorly absorbed into the bloodstream, and dogs tend to lick off these preparations.
Most of the antihistamines used in veterinary medicine are antihistamines that were made for humans. Veterinary use for dogs is usually restricted to Benadryl (Diphenhydramine), Hydroxyzine and Chlorpheniramine.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in the treatment of allergies in dogs and cats. Omega-3 fatty acids work in the skin to help reduce the amount and effects of histamine. Not every allergic pet responds to omega-3 fatty acids. Some pets show improvements, others have a complete cure, and others show no change after being on the omega-3 fatty acids. Most pets need to be on the omega-3 fatty acids daily for several weeks to months to notice significant improvement. Omega-3 fatty acids are very safe and have very few side effects. Other types of fatty acids (such as omega-6 fatty acids) can actually make some allergies worse. It is best to use the omega-3 fatty acid supplements in conjunction with a diet lower in fat.
Your poodle must undergo intradermal skin testing prior to hypo-sensitization. After the allergens have been identified, a commercially prepared injection containing altered antigens is injected into the dog. A series of weekly or monthly shots are given. Your poodle then becomes de-sensitized to the offending allergens. Success is as high as 80% with this treatment plan. Treatment is time consuming and requires a dedicated owner and veterinarian.
Steroids For Scratching
Steroids are extremely effective for relieving severe itching and inflammation. The problem is that they can have many short and long-term side effects. Steroids come two forms, injectable and in tablet form and are usually reserved as one of the last lines of treatments because of the effects on the immune and endocrine system. The potential side effects associated with steroid use in dogs are numerous and include; increased water consumption, increased urination, increased appetite (weight gain), depression, hyperactivity, panting, and diarrhea.
Long-term steroid use has the risk of creating more permanent and severe damage. Some long term side effects include increased incidence of infections, poor hair coat and skin, immunosuppression, diabetes mellitus, adrenal suppression, and liver problems. Despite the potential side effects, steroids can be used effectively and safely, if a careful dosage schedule is followed.